Category Archives: retro-Wednesday

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Autumn

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I felt fall for the first time yesterday. Fall is a hopeful time for me. I know. I know. Spring is the locus of hope, new life, planting for a year of nourishment, the resurrection… The original season of hope.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the American educational system but, for me, new life begins when the school year starts. As a youngster, I lived in places where the first hint of autumn meant Labor Day and the start of the school year. Fresh pencils, crisp paper, books whose bindings had to be broken in – all things that pointed to a new beginning. Not to mention having a new station in life when you begin a new grade.

So I’m thinking this, however belated, breath of autumn is my season of hope. Forget spring cleaning. The time is now to get rid of the former things to make room for the new ones. I’m a year older and a grade higher. How old and how high is irrelevant. This is the time to turn a page, to open a new chapter, to break in the binding of a new book. My clothes are  ironed, my hair smoothed down, my shoes shined and I am ready to begin.

We all know it doesn’t last forever. By Christmas papers will be sticking out of my notebook, the holes torn, my schedule, so meticulously managed the first two weeks will be a splatter of scratchings, and I will be slouching about in a twice worn t-shirt.

But today, today I feel fall. The energy of cool mornings and brisk evenings cast me into a season of hope. So let me go now because I want to organize my pencil case.

 

 

retro- Wednesday- How Can It Be Different?

 

 

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originally posted August 16, 2010

How different can you ‘do church’ from traditional models?  So far the answer is a resounding ‘somewhat’.

Here’s the thing: we want to share power.  We don’t want to replicate any kind of hierarchy.  We named ourselves Circle of Grace because all the points on the circle are on an even playing field.  In theory that translates to equal or shared power.   In practice, people are often uncomfortable with the thought of exercising power.  Maybe they are afraid of being ‘wrong’ or maybe they are afraid they will have to ‘bring it’.

In our model everyone has a voice.  That’s a good thing.  What’s difficult (I’ll refrain from saying ‘bad’) is that not everybody is willing to exercise his or her power.  As feminists, we redefined power.  For us, power isn’t ‘power over’ anything.  Power is what we share.  For some of us it is uncomfortable – but we agree it is important.

This breaks down pretty significantly when commitment and responsibility are iffy.  It is a pretty big trade off.  For some reason, in hierarchical power structures those with power are able to require a certain amount of responsibility.   Not so much in a non-hierarchical situation.  In my bad moments, I hate that.  I hate that we don’t have a structure I can wrangle to get something done quickly, without discussion or dissension.  Sometimes I hate it that everyone has a voice but not everyone has the inclination to do the work that needs to be dome.

So how different are we from more traditional churches?  Sometimes not at all.  Sometimes power lands in the lap of a few because of lack of interest.  Kind of like state and federal elections.  We have the power to vote, but too many people don’t give enough of a damn to exercise their power.  As pastor, I am sometimes left with too much power by default.  (Default: no one else wants to do it)  Fortunately, I don’t want the power even when I have to exercise it.

Sometimes we are very, very different from traditional churches.  There is no power of ‘right thought’ or ‘right belief’.  One of the most challenging aspects of being in our community is that we are not bound by shared belief.  There may be someone who believes in substitutionary atonement and another who vehemently does not (in fact most of us don’t).  We have had times of members who opposed abortion and those who worked for choice organizations.  We have learned to make room for one another.

That’s the wonderful part.  It is wonderful enough to balance out the trials of a lumpy sharing of power.  How different can it be?  Different enough that we keep on trying to figure out how we’ve been socialized and work against what is easy or comfortable.  We know we are on a huge learning curve.  I guess that’s how different it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

retro- Wednesday: What makes a spiritual community Christian?

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(originally posted in 2010)

Here’s a good follow-up from my last post:  what makes a spiritual community Christian?  What seems obvious to some has been completely un-obvious to me.  Let me meander through this question a moment.

Years ago the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical group comprised of nearly all current Christian denominations said that be be a member of the Council a church was only required to affirm the statement “Jesus is Lord.”

That was until the MCC, a predominantly gay and lesbian church, tried to join.  The MCC was perfectly willing to affirm and declare that “Jesus is Lord”.  Suddenly, our good friends at NCC had a problem.  The net-net is, at that time, MCC was denied membership into the National Council of Churches.  I don’t know if that has changed but either way, my point is taken.  There is more than one idea floating around about what it means to be Christian.

To me, the affirmation “Jesus is Lord” is difficult to make sense of in a democratic society where none of us has lived under a feudal system or functioning monarchy.  We don’t swear fealty to an overlord who protects us.  We really don’t have any experiential idea of what lordship looks and feels like.  I know some folks say that “Jesus is Lord” means that Jesus is in charge or that Jesus is the thing we most value in our lives or that we follow the way of Jesus above all other ways if there is a conflict of interests.  But the phrase doesn’t emerge out of our life experiences as it did in the time of Paul up to the Industrial Age.   However, it remains one understanding of what it means to be Christian and what it means to be in a Christian community.

Another understanding of what it means to be Christian is the affirmation of the phrase: “Jesus Christ is my lord and savior.”  “Isn’t this the same?” you might ask.  Well, yes and no.

Having chatted with many a ‘missionary’ on my doorstep I have discerned a distinct, rather than nuanced, difference between the two statements.  This statement infers that one believes Jesus is saving one from eternal damnation, otherwise known as ‘hell’.    If you believe in Jesus as the son of God, if you believe he came to atone for the sins of all humanity throughout all time (including yours) then you are saved.  This understanding often encourages blind faith, the accepting of things that don’t make sense or that appear, in and of themselves, unbelievable.

For some, it is a matter of believing the tenets of the ‘true faith’. The ‘true faith’ is always the faith purported by the makers of the statement, which have been varied and many.

Finally, there are those who call themselves Christian who consider themselves ‘followers in the Way of Jesus’.  They follow the teachings of Jesus and seek to live in the manner that Christ lived and taught.  Now, I’m not saying that those with different understandings of what it means to be Christian don’t do that, I’m just saying that this is how some Christians define their Christianity.

So, the question: what makes a spiritual community Christian?  I guess the answer is: All of the above.  At Circle of Grace we try to make room for multiple understandings of what it means to be a Christian.  For some, atonement is essential.  For some, the lordship of Christ is pivotal.  For most of us, being Christian is following in the Way of Christ (Jesus).  For all of us, it is essential that we remain respectful of one another’s understandings.   I guess the one understanding that wouldn’t make it here is the idea of a ‘true faith’.  It excludes the respectful possibility of differences.

So are we Christian?  I am sure some would say not.  And some might think, “Well some of you are and some of you aren’t.”   Some of us hesitate to be called Christian because they hesitate to be identified with the dominant cultural understanding of Christian as intolerant and judgmental.  But Christian we are, in most of its permutations.  What makes us a spiritual community that is Christian?

Okay, the bottom line is that I don’t have an answer to what seems to be a profoundly easy question.

Christian, feminist and church…

originally posted in 2010

My friend and our non-resident theologian, Dr. Monica A. Coleman, recently visited a feminist church at a conference at which she presented.  She then posted an idea on facebook inviting all feminist churches to hook up.  I snickered and posted back, “What, all two of us?”

      There may be more but we are so far apart and disconnected that it is hard to find one another.  On some level we may not believe that the other exists.  And then there is the question of what makes a spiritual community feminist.

      First of all, there are a lot of understandings about what it means to be feminist (among feminists as well as outside the feminist community).  After lengthy discussion Circle of Grace distilled our understanding down to a short paragraph:

        Circle of Grace is a feminist Christian worshipping community.  We are non-doctrinal and seek to re- imagine understandings of language and stories, symbols and metaphors.  Our commitment is to inclusivity.  We honor each one’s truth and each one’s journey and feel called into community as a way of faithful response.  We understand feminism to be a critique of power.

 Spelled out it means: 

  1-we don’t all have to (nor do we) believe the same things. Nothing is written in stone.  For us the journey of the spirit requires a certain fluidity (uncomfortable at times).  Theologically, members of our community range the gamut of understandings.  Biblical authority, atonement, – you name it.  This hooks up with the last sentence in our statement: we honor each one’s truth and each one’s journey.  As in, I can’t tell you what your experience of the Sacred is, nor will I try to dissuade you of it.  Need I say that making room for many truths is a challenge?  But we are committed to this endeavor because It is central to feminist thought.

 2-  Our images, stories, symbols and metaphors are not limited to the images, stories, symbols and metaphors available in the biblical text, though we do ‘re-imagine’ those in ways that, we hope, opens us to new understandings of Godde.  As feminists, we find any symbol that becomes rigid and/or absolute to be unhelpful and sometimes harmful to the journey of the spirit.  It is one thing to say Godde is like a father (or mother or eagle or bridegroom, etc.) and quite another to say Godde is father,etc.

 3-  We feel called to community as a way of faithful response.  All of us at Circle of Grace come together because we believe or intuit that sharing spiritual community both grounds and grows us.  It is the challenge of being (or trying to be) who Godde calls us  to be in the world and with one another that draws us together in worship, prayer, meals, time, relationship…     It is faithful (and feminist) to build community that is radically inclusive.  It is faithful (and feminist) to live our one’s journey of spirit informed by those who are not like us but offer new wisdom, insight, challenge and hope.   For me, at least, and others I believe, the call to community is the call to kin-dom living, the call to embody the kin-dom in real time as a beacon of hope for the world.  Each week at Eucharist we say something like this to one another as we pass the wine, “Drink in and become the promises of Godde.”

 4- We understand feminism to be a critique of power.  We also understand the Way of Jesus to be a critique of power.  They go hand in hand.  As feminist Christians we speak a critique of the power of the institutional church.  

       So for Circle of Grace being spiritual feminist community is about opening understandings of the Divine to include many images, it’s about making room for all kinds of differences and it’s about living out our understandings (and our struggles to understand and our inability to make sense) together.  It means that we get comfortable with not having all the answers.  It means that we make room for one another.  It means we critique power used and misused in both the culture (patriarchy) and the institutional church (with love…).

 So here’s a shout out to all the other feminist spiritual communities/churches out there (they are there, right, Monica?) – “what does it mean to you?”   

 And isn’t it great that it can mean so many different things?